Depth and balance were the two key phrases of the offseason. It’s the first thing Mike Anderson says when asked about this team.
It was tested earlier than anyone could have expected, playing less than 24 hours after it’s last-second victory over St. Peter’s without two starters.
That depth and balance was apparent in a much better performance on Thanksgiving day. Despite the absence of Julian Champagnie (right ankle) and Rasheem Dunn (concussion protocol), the Johnnies cruised past La Salle, 82-65, in the Lapchick Tournament.
Dominating the second half, the Johnnies put four players in double figures. Nine different players scored, led by Wednesday night’s hero, Vince Cole, with 19 points, Marcellus Earlington with 14 and Greg Williams Jr. with 13.
The other end of the floor is where the big improvement came from. This looked like a different team than the one that let St. Peter’s shoot 53 percent from the field. They were intense, focused and determined, forcing difficult shots late in the shot clock. The Johnnies (2-0) forced a whopping 26 turnovers, turning them into 33 points, had a 40-22 edge in the paint and limited La Salle to 38.9 percent shooting.
They took over early in the second half with a 15-7 run that included seven points from Williams. The lead ballooned to 15 after consecutive 3-pointers from Dylan Addae-Wusu and Earlington and 19 after a Cole step-back jumper.
La Salle (0-1) did make it interesting, ripping off an 8-0 run to get within eight in the final minutes, but David Beatty missed a free throw and Cole drew a charge on Ayinde Hikim. Freshman Posh Alexander hit two free throws on the other end and Cole sank a runner to push the lead back to 12.
St. John’s brought it defensively from the jump, forcing four turnovers over the first 2:46 and created 14 turnovers in the first half alone while limiting the Explorers to 37.5 shooting from the field. After getting hurt repeatedly around the rim by St. Peter’s, it firmed up the paint, out-scoring La Salle 16-8 over the first 20 minutes and if not for 11 of its own turnovers, would’ve held a much bigger lead than the 34-28 differential at the break.
There was balanced scoring, with eight players getting on the board and nobody in double figures. With Dunn out, redshirt freshman John McGriff got his first minutes with the Johnnies and sank his first shot, a 3-pointer from the left wing. With Alexander in foul trouble, he gave Anderson nine quality minutes in the opening half and notched two steals. Cole, Wednesday night’s hero, led the Johnnies with seven points, though he made only two of seven shots. Earlington and Moore each added six, doing all of their damage around the rim.